By The Herald Editorial Board
One enjoyed catching a football with his grandfather and learning pass plays. Another, a 10-year-old girl, already had decided to study to be a lawyer and help people. Art was the favorite school subject for a third child, 10 years old, who was looking past summer and for the start of middle school.
Nineteen ordinary kids — at the same time extraordinary individuals — with stories, aspirations and potential, were murdered, as were two teachers, Tuesday in the nation’s latest mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, which itself followed a mass shooting 10 days before in Buffalo, N.Y., that killed 10 people, each with their own ordinary extraordinary lives.
Except for the families and friends who will live with these losses and memories for the rest of their lives, these stories will eventually fade from public view to become statistics, rows of numbers — each which began with its own story of loss — that should be convicting our decades of inaction to address and limit gun violence and deaths that have built to a rate that is unmatched in the world.
The mass shootings are horrifying, especially in their now seeming frequency, but reflect only a small percentage of the total deaths from firearm violence in the United States.
In 2020, as the U.S. struggled with one pandemic, another in the form of firearm deaths claimed 45,222 lives, according to a compilation of statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, assembled by the Pew Research Center, and showed a 14 percent increase from 2019. Of those deaths, suicides accounted for 54 percent — an average of about 66 deaths by gun suicide each day — while homicides accounted for 43 percent of firearm deaths. Over recent years, an average 3 in 5 gun deaths have resulted from suicide.
Yet even faced with heart-wrenching stories and mind-numbing statistics we are stuck in the same cycle of shock, demand for action, debate over what should be done and governmental paralysis that persists until the next mass shooting and the cycle’s repetition.
It’s not that we don’t have models for sound policy and proof of their effectiveness.
Washington state, thankfully, is among several states that have managed in recent years to pass laws — either through the Legislature or by citizen initiative — including: bans on bump stocks that turn semi-automatic firearms into automatic weapons, as well as high-capacity magazines and ghost guns; universal background checks; extreme-risk protection orders, also called “red flag” laws; an age requirement of 21 for purchase of semi-automatic weapons; limits that bar the open-carry of firearms at demonstrations and public meetings; and laws mandating safe storage of firearms in the home.
Such steps have proved effective elsewhere in reducing gun deaths. Connecticut tightened licensing requirements in 1995 and saw its firearm homicide rate drop 40 percent and its deaths from gun suicide drop 15 percent. Conversely, when Missouri repealed gun licensing requirements in 2007, its gun homicide rate increased 25 percent and gun suicides by 16 percent.
Data compiled by the Giffords Law Center find similarly that stronger firearm laws result in lower rates of gun deaths. Washington state, Giffords’ state-by-state ranking shows, ranked 10th among the 50 states in the strength of its gun safety laws, with the 12th lowest rate of gun deaths, 20 percent lower than the national average.
Even so, the ability to carry firearms over state lines can reduce the effectiveness of laws in individual states, putting the onus on Congress to adopt national standards, in particular for background checks. At least two pieces of legislation have been passed by the U.S. House, but have stalled in the Senate. One would close a loophole that allows sales to proceed if a background check is not completed within three days. Another would strengthen background checks for all gun sales and transfers.
Among proposals for legislation, measures with 80 percent or higher levels of support in surveys — for both Republicans and Democrats — are background checks for all firearm purchases, red-flag laws and laws banning sales to those convicted of violent crimes and those on no-fly lists, the Pew Research Center reports.
Regarding issues of mental illness and its contributions to this crisis: Please, where are the proposals for legislation that address mental health? What are we willing to spend to improve access to counseling and other resources? And — absent red-flag laws — how do we keep guns out of the hands of those who pose a danger to themselves and others?
None of what must be done — even a fair and open debate on the merits and costs of proposals and investments that can reduce gun violence and deaths — can move forward unless our representatives and ourselves leave behind the blind loyalty that is being demanded by parties, lobbies and political organizations.
This becomes even more imperative as we approach a consequential election of representatives for our state and national legislatures.
That misdirected loyalty to political clans — rather than to our common nation — more than divides us; it has frozen us in indecision and inaction, not just in regard to how we balance a constitutional right with public safety, but in nearly every issue that now confronts us and that our life, liberty and pursuit of happiness demands we address: climate change, social justice, crime, homelessness, poverty, individual rights, education, defense spending, economic fairness, gender equity, health care, election access and security; and at the core, democracy.
It has been 10 years since the massacre of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., yet only now are Alex Jones and others being held accountable for promoting the bloody libel that the murders were a “false flag” operation, that grieving parents were just “crisis actors” playing a part for political purposes. And yet, the same infuriating lie and other conspiracy theories — and acquiescence to the loyalty that allows those lies to thrive — already are circulating about the 19 children and two teachers gunned down in in that Uvalde classroom.
It’s the most egregious — yet not the only example — of the tactics that have been used to thwart action at the state and national levels, action that is supported by an overwhelming majority of Americans.
Whether those deaths happen scores at a time or one after the other — it is killing us. And it is killing our children.